The battle lines are being drawn for what is becoming one of America’s largest natural-resources fights in decades, pitting the mining industry against defenders of a way of life and an economy that are inextricably linked to one of the United States’ most intact and productive ecosystems.
The Bristol Bay region in southwest Alaska, often referred to as “America’s fish basket,” is home to the most valuable salmon fishing ground in the United States. This pristine area supports the production of more than half of the world’s sockeye salmon, one of the most popular and prized types of salmon. Additionally, the region supports substantial catches of four other salmon species and herring. In total, the salmon fisheries of Bristol Bay support the equivalent of nearly 10,000 full-time jobs and create $1.5 billion in annual economic output. It is a prime example of a conservation economy, defined as a sustainable economy that directly depends on a healthy ecosystem.
But a large mineral deposit is located at the headwaters of two of the major rivers that flow into Bristol Bay, and international mining companies are eager to extract the hundreds of billions of dollars in gold, copper, and molybdenum found there. Extraction of these precious metals will require open-pit mining—digging up and separating the ore with toxic chemicals—on a massive scale with very few precedents.
Because of this, mining in the Bristol Bay region has become extremely controversial, drawing the attention of Alaska Natives, fishermen, and other stakeholders. Specifically, opponents have serious concerns with one particular mine—the Pebble Project—which happens to be the furthest along in the process. A project of the Pebble Limited Partnership, which teams two multinational mining companies, Anglo American plc and Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd., the Pebble Project would be one of the world’s largest open-pit mines.
Read the full story at Center for American Progress>>